The emphasis is on teamwork as the crew at the port of Puerto Armuelles, Panama, quickly learn to self-manage their operations with a sharp eye on safety.

When Svitzer won a fiercely competitive bid in 2008 for servicing PTP (Petroterminal de Panama) on the Pacific side of the country, at Puerto Armuelles, the challenge was clear. Within three months, what used to be a relatively abandoned and remote operation needed to be transformed into an operation with completely new management and fully trained crew. Not to mention fewer tugs, as Svitzer was replacing the previous service provider’s four to five tugs with just two much more powerful vessels – which leaves no room for downtime, requiring the crew to be constantly on top of maintenance and safety. Additionally, these were meant to service a significant increase in volume, thanks to a new PTP contract. 

In addition to the powerful tugs, Svitzer brought an unprecedented strong emphasis on safety standards and procedures to the port. Since most of the 15 crew members, hired from the previous service provider, are local men of this town of 25,000, job security was important to them. Incorporating Svitzer’s Safety First attitude into their daily work was the top priority. Mario Garcia, General Manager of the Panama Operations clarifies: “The crew understood that for the contract with PTP to run for several years, and for them to have a good and long career at Svitzer, we need to do a great job as a team, and safely at that, so that both the client and the crew would win from the collaboration.”

The crews were immediately introduced to the Maersk Group, the standard PPE package and, most importantly, Svitzer’s safety standards. Due to the relatively remote geographical location, it was vital from the beginning that the crews become self-managing in terms of safety standards. Luis Serrano, Chief Engineer of Puerto Armuelles, reflects on his impressions back then: “I have worked for various international companies before, but Svitzer’s safety standards struck me as above other companies. In my opinion, having high safety standards translates into a benefit for the crew as they make our work environment safer.” Captain Rolando Caballero agrees: “Svitzer proved to be very different from previous companies. We learned a lot from the systems and procedures Svitzer has in place. In general, I think you start taking safety more seriously after the training. Sometimes you even take that mindset with you home and start looking for safer ways of doing routine things.”

What followed was a number of intensive safety meetings, self-initiated risk analysis of tugs, hazard mitigation projects and countless hours spent discussing all things safety related. Additionally, proactive safety reporting introduced by the local contract manager at the time, Hendrik Smits – and now being followed up by current local contract manager Juan Romero – encouraged crew members to generate suggestions for features on board the tugs that would improve safety during their everyday tasks. According to Captain Caballero, this gave all crew members “the autonomy and liberty to be creative and come up with new ideas for safety on board. It made us feel more involved with Svitzer.”

Mario Garcia sums up the Panama operation’s enthusiastic self-management by observing that, “The crews have noticed that by being creative and brainstorming ideas about safety, they will not only improve their own wellbeing, but they will also help the operation. Especially when they witness that some of their ideas have been used on other tugs in the region, they feel real proud of their work.” 

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